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Tobin, Edgar Gardner (1896–1954)

Biography Entry

Edgar Gardner Tobin, pilot, businessman, and philanthropist, son of William Gerard and Ethel (Murphy) Tobin, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on September 7, 1896. He was a graduate of West Texas Military Academy in 1914. During World War I Tobin was a pilot and served first in the 94th Aero Squadron (a member of Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's "Hat in the Ring" squadron) and then in the 103rd Aero Squadron. He earned the title "ace" after he had downed five enemy planes and an observation balloon. For his service his honors included the French Croix de Guerre and the Distinguished Flying Cross. By the age of twenty-two he had achieved the rank of major.

Tobin returned to San Antonio after the war and worked as an auto dealer. On December 29, 1921, he married Katharine Harrison, the daughter of Col. Ralph Harrison at Fort Sam Houston. They had one daughter, Katharine, but divorced within a few years. On November 10, 1926, Tobin married Margaret Lynn Batts, a regent of the University of Texas from 1947 to 1955 and daughter of Robert Lynn Batts. They had one son, Robert.

By 1928 Tobin was an agent for a commercial aircraft, American Eagle, and his position proved fortuitous when Austrian engineer Gilard Kargl approached him about aerial photography and its use in mapping for oil companies. Thus in 1928 Tobin founded the Edgar Tobin Aerial Surveys firm in San Antonio. After entering the commercial mapping field for Humble Oil and Refining Company (see EXXON COMPANY, U.S.A.), he cemented his reputation in mapping operations for oil companies. From 1933 to 1971 he mapped more than a million land parcels. During World War II his company mapped the entire United States for the federal government, and he served as special civilian adviser to Gen. Henry H. Arnold, United States Army Air Forces. Texas governor Allan Shivers later credited Tobin’s pioneering mapping as a major contributor to the success of the war effort in the United States through his “mapping of invasion routes.”

In San Antonio Edgar Tobin generously contributed to many charitable organizations. He died on January 10, 1954, near Shreveport, Louisiana, in a plane crash that took the lives of other prominent businessmen, one of whom was Thomas Elmer Braniff. Tobin was buried in Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio. At the time of his death his company was the largest aerial mapping firm in the world. His wife and son carried on the business, which went through several mergers until Tobin International, Ltd., was acquired by P2 Energy Solutions in 2004. The Edgar Tobin Foundation was established in San Antonio.

Dallas Morning News, January 11, 12, 1954. “Edgar Gardner Tobin,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/82296891/edgar-gardner-tobin), accessed February 22, 2018. Edgar Tobin Aerial Surveys of East Texas Collection, 1930s, The History Center, Diboll, Texas. San Antonio Evening News, December 31, 1921. San Antonio Express, January 11, 12, 1954.

Categories:

  • Business
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Tobin, Edgar Gardner,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 24, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tobin-edgar-gardner.

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